Farm Horizons, November 2007
The 2007 Carver County farm family of the year is accredited in hog industry
By Linda Scherer
This little piggy went to market well maybe, and maybe not.
If it was born and raised on the Eichner family farm in Hamburg, it might possibly be sold as breeding stock.
Jay and Rochelle Eichner and their two sons, Alex, 11, and Reese, 7, are the 2007 Carver County Farm Family of the Year. The family runs a biosecurity hog operation raising approximately 3,600 hogs a year, and is accredited to sell breeding stock.
“Selling breeding stock is a real big deal,” Rochelle said. “You make a premium above the normal price and in order to keep doing it, you need to stay accredited.”
It is a continuous process to keep their farm accredited including a certified vet making calls on a regular basis. The vet comes to take blood samples of butcher animals to check for diseases.
For biosecurity reasons, it is imperative all visitors to the Eichner farm must not have been on any other pig farm for at least three days before coming to the Eichners. The opportunity to spread disease from one farm to another is just too great. This includes all vehicles and visitors that enter the farm.
“When the vet comes, he comes on Monday so he has been away from hogs and other animals since Friday,” Rochelle said. “Feed is delivered on Monday, so their trucks have been away from other farms for three days, and the truck has to be washed before it comes.”
Anyone entering any of the Eichner barns must shower and put on clothing provided by them, according to Rochelle. The facility is designed so that you go into a changing room and directly into the shower, then a bathroom/changing room for coveralls, before entering the barn.
“If these diseases get on your farm, you can probably sell market animals but you cannot sell breeding stock, so it is really important to take precautions,” Rochelle said.
Of the 3,600 hogs raised, about half are gilts (females before they have young). Of those, approximately 70 percent are raised for breeding purposes and sold to a company called Comparts.
The Eichners have come a long way from the 10 bred hogs and 120 acres of land they started with in 1991. Married in 1989, Rochelle, who has a college degree in computer science, left the decision of farming up to Jay, who has a degree in animal science. Jay was from southwestern Minnesota and grew up on his father’s farm, where they had raised hogs and beef cattle.
The Eichners sold everything they owned including their home in Lakeville to purchase their Hamburg farm. They were able to use a lot of the farm equipment from Jay’s dad, who was going out of farming.
“That really saved us. None of it was really great, but we used it and we still have some of the pieces around here yet,” Jay said.
“We went out and bought a very old Chevy pickup. One of the doors had to be held to keep it shut. We bought a livestock trailer and that was all we had. It was right after the Halloween snowstorm, with 30 inches of snow, and suddenly we were thinking we better have a tractor or we might get snowed in. We bought a tractor with a loader and still have it. It was a 1963 Ford 4000. We’re going to refurbish it,” Rochelle said.
Jay preferred raising hogs because he didn’t like milking and there was not a great deal of pasture on the farm.
“Hogs are easier to get started and you get a faster return on your money. If you want to buy a bunch of stock cows, it is over a year before you get your return on your money. With hogs, it is in about six months,” Jay said.
Right now, the farm has about 200 sows that are kept in the gestation barn. They are divided into five groups in different stages of pregnancies.
When a sow is ready to give birth, someone needs to be on call 24 hours a day for about five days.
“It is just like anything that gives birth. Some have them all by themselves and some need help. The more you are present the first three or four days, the more pigs you are going to save,” Jay said.
Once the sow is ready to deliver, it is moved to a farrowing stall. Each sow will produce between 10 and 12 piglets. The goal is to average 11 and to wean 9.5. A sow will produce a litter two times a year. The sow will remain with her piglets for about 20 days and then they are weaned.
Rochelle works the numbers for the farrowing barn and keeps track of each of the animals in various stages.
“The magic number to farrow at one time is about 33. Every 28 days, one group gets moved out and a new group of mothers come in, just like clockwork,” Rochelle said.
Once the pigs are weaned, they are moved to a nursery, where they stay for about 50 days. From there, they are moved to a finishing barn until they are about five months old.
“None of the animals go outside. They are moved from barn to barn, but are pulled on a cart. The only time they go outside is when they leave to go to market,” Jay said.
Once a week, 50 to 55 hogs are sold.
The Eichner boys help out on the farm, too. They are mainly involved with the piglets and sows in the nursery. The boys feed and water the pigs, and are a big help at weaning time.
In addition to their two sons, the Eichners have received help through a program called Communicating for Agriculture. Last year, they were hosting Cezar Barreto from Brazil, and this year, Nicolau Schwendler came at the end of July and will stay until next summer. Nicolau is also from Brazil. Rochelle describes the program as an agricultural internship.
Eichners decide to diversify
On a family trip in 2000, to Banff, Canada, just north of Montana, the family discovered elk. In the national park there, the elk just roam through town and the Eichners thought they were “gorgeous.”
Friends of theirs had elk and at the time the hog industry was not doing very well.
“We thought maybe we should diversify a little and so we bought nine bred cows. We had 18 after the first year,” Rochelle said.
Their fencing is designed to only allow for 25, but it can be expanded to more. They are planning to keep the elk at about 25 because there is not much pasture.
“We really haven’t turned them into a moneymaker because we really haven’t gone down that path,” Rochelle said.
The Eichners cut the antlers to sell. The antlers are harvested 70 days after the initial regrowth occurs. A yearling spike bull elk will produce 2.5 to 3.0 pounds of antler at 70 days of growth. Harvestable antler weight will double each year until maturity at 4 to 5 years of age. At maturity, a bull elk will produce between 15 and 25 pounds of antlers.
The market for antlers is popular in Asia. According to reports from Russia, New Zealand, and the Orient, antler generates hemoglobin, controls blood pressure, increases lung efficiency, improves muscle tone and glandular functions, sharpens the wits, heals stomach ulcers, relieves the inflammation of arthritis, and eases the debilities of old age.
Rochelle uses the capsule form of the product herself and said she can feel the difference it makes in her joints or knees when they bother her.
MinnCan Project’s planned route is right through the Eichners’ farm
MinnCan is planning to put its pipeline right through the Eichner farm’s northwest corner that runs right along their building site. The pipeline will change all of the Eichners’ upcoming plans for their farm. They are trying to work with MinnCan to see if it is possible to get the pipeline to run along their property line instead.
They have bought building permits for another hog barn and they would like to expand their elk, but everything is on hold while they try to change MinnCan’s pipeline path.
“It is necessary to have buildings 25 feet on either side of the pipeline. If we need to cross the pipeline to get to one of our buildings, we would have to pay to have the pipeline lowered so a road can go over the pipeline,” Rochelle said.
“We wanted to expand our elk, but we can’t do that now. The elk require 8-foot fencing and it has to be buried 4-feet deep and we can’t do that with the pipeline,” Rochelle said.
The only other option the Eichners would have would require them to use crop land, which they do not want to do.
Some people have told the Eichners that they will be making money off the deal. Eichners said, they would rather let someone else have their pipeline and make the money.